Climate Feedback

Wake up, freak out – then get a grip

polar bear plays violin.JPG

A little something for those who find the escalating financial crisis overshadowing the somewhat less imminent threat of climate change. Check out this new 10-minute animation on climate tipping points by Plane Stupid activist Leo Murray, entitled ‘Wake up, freak out – then get a grip’.

It may be animation, but light entertainment it isn’t. Imaginatively illustrated and extensively referenced, this short piece by Murray, who narrates the story as an animated stick figure, takes us through a worst-case scenario of future climate change – from mass species extinctions all the way to famine and war.

It’s worth seeing for the opening scene alone, where a violin-playing polar bear is confronted by an incensed (stick figure) Murray, declaring:

This really isn’t about polar bears anymore.

I particularly like his representation of positive feedback loops as cogs in a machine. The science is solid for the most part, but selective – six degrees of warming is an upper estimate after all, and in truth I don’t think that anyone knows for sure how close we are to reaching tipping points in the climate system. I’m also unconvinced that beyond 6 degrees of warming the Earth will become the domain of flies, cockroaches and rats – isn’t that more of a nuclear winter scenario?

But Murray’s animation does a great job of bringing to life the concept of catastrophic climate change, with a defiant take home message to boot:

It is now very clear that in order to actually win the fight against climate change, making big changes to the way we each live our own lives is not going to be enough; we’re also going to have to actively confront powerful vested interests who will stop at nothing to prevent the changes we need from taking place. We have to be more than just consumers.

It looks like he’ll get Al Gore’s support on that one.

Olive Heffernan


  1. Report this comment

    Leo said:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the blog on my film, I’m very much obliged. It’s perfectly fair to point out that I’ve chosen to represent a scenario that is right at one extreme of the spectrum of plausible outcomes. I just think we need to plan for the worst – standard practice in any risk assessment, and there’s so much at stake in this instance that it would be irresponsible not to. See Hansen’s 350ppm campaign; he thinks we’ve already exceeded ‘safe’ limits of atmospheric carbon, meaning we have to reduce concentrations to stand a good chance of not triggering runaway warming. There’s far too much uncertainty around this, hence I have avoided subscribing to any particular view in the film, preferring to leave the question of where the tipping point actually lies open.

    Plus you’re quite right that the rats and flies are by far the most tenuous bit 🙂 Apparently rats are already breeding more quickly in the UK because of the warmer winters, a trend which is likely to continue here – but that’s far from being a universal picture. Just too good an image to pass up I thought, if somewhat in danger of marring the overall credibility of the piece! More generally, as far as I understand it insects, esp. scavengers and opportunists (flies and cockroaches included), will be amongst the big winners in a runaway warming scenario – but please do put me straight if I’ve got that wrong. The mosquitoes thing of course is totally solid…

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    Olive Heffernan said:

    Hi Leo,

    thanks for commenting.

    The commentaries in PNAS this week that I’ve blogged above above suggest that stabilising at 450-550ppm wouldn’t be sufficient to prevent dangerous warming, so in that respect they concur with Hansen.

    They’re talking 2.4 degrees Celcius of warming rather than 6 degrees, but still that could be enough to trigger some of the tipping points you mention in your film.

    On the mosquitos, ok. It’s the rats and cockroaches I’m unconvinced of, but nice work all the same


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    Christopher Mims said:

    This video is only just starting to hit U.S. blogs. Interesting that you express skepticism of the 6 degrees figure in light of the recent, nearly overwhelming coverage of the fact that revised models that incorporate the very feedbacks this video addresses put us right where it predicts – at 5-6 deg C warming by 2100.

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    Olive Heffernan said:

    I was pointing out that 6 degrees was an upper estimate in the 2007 IPCC report and I don’t think that is stated anywhere in the animation. But yes it seems clear from last week’s climate congress in Copenhagen that we’re on track for that scenario now.

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